Making time – Tide vs. Skype

Two brand ads that ask parents to ‘make time’, but how each brand goes about doing it says a lot about the brands (as well as the agencies, I suppose).

First, P&G’s Tide washing powder.

Armed with an IMRB data point that ‘households across India spend up to 300 hours doing laundry’, the brand gets Leo Burnett to create a supposedly heart-warming ad film that is literally titled, ‘Are we spending time on what is really important?’.

I assume that title is an indirect nudge to inform us that the 300 hours could be reduced because of Tide and that extra time you ‘gain’ from spending less time in laundry could be used to spend with your child/ren. This is a really, really jaded advertising narrative – ‘You save so much time by using our product that the time you save could be used to do XYZ’.

The device the ad uses to illuminate this basic lesson is the grandmother. She comes and stays with the family for a few days, observes the ‘problem’, and then tells them via a video call even as the completely clueless parents are totally oblivious to the most obvious – “You don’t ‘get’ time. You need to ‘make’ time’. They seem so clueless that the mother has to cry in the fakest way possible as if she had an epiphany that eluded her all this while.

The trouble with Tide’s narrative is that it uses a selective framing, of those fleeting instances when the parents are busy working (yes, they have to work, to earn a living, and it does keep parents pretty busy). Is there any shot of the parents spending time with the child in the evenings, in the night, during the time they have a break? Of course, not – that would throw a giant spanner on the narrative.

Does this mean all parents in India are like this? No.
Are some parents like this? Sure. Possibly.
Are parents totally clueless that their children need their time? Hardly.
Do parents need a washing powder brand to tell them that their children need their time? Highly questionable.

In a sense, Tide blames the technology-addicted parents for being busy with work because ubiquitous technology (always-on computers and phones) keeps them engaged to work all the time.

Ironically, what is more likely to happen is that the parents may take a look at Pihu’s lovely drawing, take a photo of it (with the same technology that enables their work), and share it very proudly on Facebook/Instagram.

Another irony could be that it is Pihu who is supposed to be engrossed in her school through another device, and it may be the parents who are unable to speak to Pihu about something!

But, Tide has washing powder to sell. And if that selling needs to selectively use snapshots of parents’ life, ignore the reality of digital school, and make parents seem like clueless dolts, so be it.

Incidentally, Campaign Asia has the same view on this Tide ad.

The second ad that talks about ‘making time’ in the context of parents and children is Skype!

Skype India’s film by Taproot Dentsu has so much in common with the Tide film:

  • Parents busy at work (Tide’s both parents vs. Skype’s dad in office in the late evening/night)
  • A video call as a catalyst to tell the story
  • Daughter (one, in Tide, and two, in Skype)

But that’s where the similarities end. The biggest difference is this: what the Tide ad refuses to show, the Skype ad shows. Of course, this is because Skype’s product is all about using technology, which keeps parents busy in the Tide ad, to connect people!

The busy parents in the Skype ad make time to engage the daughters in what is clearly an elaborate game of hide and seek, but with a lovely twist. The technology helps the father to be away from the home but still play the game as convincingly as possible, thanks to the mother. It feels almost real – the father could be in another city or country, but the girls feel that he is right there. Even if they were to narrate it to a friend the next day (via Skype?), they would simply say that they played hide and seek with their father and mother.

The Skype ad portrays the same parents as individuals who realize what they are going through in terms of work pressure, but know that they have to make time. They did not need an external catalyst to inform this basic truth. They have not been portrayed as being monumentally clueless.

But the same argument that brings down Tide could be reversed for Skype – if Tide showed the parents as clueless, only to sell washing powder, then the Skype ad shows the parents are smart, only to sell their video calling app.

You may use the same tone of counter-questions in both cases:
Tide – But aren’t the parents spending time with the daughter at all?
Skype – But are the parents making time for the daughters all the time?

You could also ask incidental questions:

  • why is the father alone in such a big office in the night (another time-zone?)?
  • why is he alone not able to finish his work and get back home?
  • why is the Skype ad showing that it is ok to prioritize work over home/family?

In a way, you could play both ads back-to-back and it may seem like the adequately-chastised parents of the Tide ad became the smarter parents of the Skype ad.

The larger problem with the Skype ad is that the product’s specific pitch is completely absent. Why should the parents be using Skype to play hide and seek? Isn’t it more likely to be WhatsApp? But then, observe the device through which the father is engaging – it’s a laptop, at work!

Does WhatsApp allow video calls via a laptop? Of course – if you have the desktop app and not just login to WhatsApp web via a browser.

The same scenario could be recreated using any other video calling tool – Zoom or Google Meet, that have both become popular during the pandemic-infused work-from-anywhere period. In fact, Microsoft Teams is perhaps more used/spoken about along with Zoom and Google Meet than Skype! But that explains why Skype is even advertising in the first place. That they chose a family conversation through their platform as a narrative device and not a professional/business conversation says a lot about how they want to position the product away from Teams.

PS: I’m not sure how new the Skype film is. Taproot Dentsu’s Titus Upputuru shared it on LinkedIn just last week, but Shruti Seth (who plays the mother in the ad) mentions in her Instagram share of the same film as something she shot 6 years ago. It’s also possible that while the ad was shot long ago, it is being released only now.

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